CHERBOURG, France (CT): Having come down heavily inside the final kilometre of Saturday’s opening stage of the Tour, Sam Bennett faced the nightmare scenario of possibly being out of the race on day one. The Irish sprinter crossed the line clutching his arm to his chest and grimacing in pain, and at the team bus staff said that there were concerns that he had fractured his collarbone and also broken a finger.
Fortunately a visit to hospital confirmed that the damage wasn’t so bad and, battered and bruised, he was able to start stage two on Sunday morning.
“I’m a little bit beat up, but I should be okay,” he told CyclingTips at the start in Saint-Lô. “It’s just my hand, and the braking and stuff. Controlling the bike should be okay. I am a little stiff but it is a disappointing start to the Tour de France. It is also the second time this year that bad work with the barriers has put me down.”
Cycling’s rider representation groups have long campaigned for barriers without protruding feet. The issue has been known for a long time: on the final stage of the 1991 Tour, for example, green jersey winner Djamolidine Abdoujaparov got tangled up in barriers and hit the deck.
The same has happened numerous times in races, prompting a repeated push for such barriers to be deemed illegal close to the line. Despite this, such barriers were in use until 500 metres to go on Saturday.
“The barriers came in real sharp,” Bennett explained. “Then too guys got tangled up and ended up on the ground in front of me. I just couldn’t react in time.
“Coming in at that speed, we shouldn’t have to worry about things like that. It is too dangerous, but nothing has been done.”
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Once on the deck, Bennett had a scare when he looked at the damage. It was such that he needed an operation on Saturday evening in order to try to put things right.
“ I could see the bone in my finger,” the Bora-Argon 18 rider said. “I had to go under to get it stitched up. I am just trying to keep my fingers dry today. They are all wrapped up. The pressure on them is a lot but they should be okay. Trying not to bend them to break the stitches is the hardest.”
Bennett said that he was too far back to fight for a top five on the stage but that a top ten might have been possible. That’s academic after his crash but he said his legs are better than last year, when he made his debut.
Twelve months ago he came into the race with bad preparation due to illness. Lacking form as a result, his best placing was tenth and he was forced to withdraw four days from the finish when he became sick again.
This time around he has a far more solid buildup and he is hoping to do something big in the event. In the days leading up to the start he was optimistic that he was in the right place.
“I am so far ahead of last year it is ridiculous, looking at my training files and the fitness levels and everything. My condition is way, way better,” he said prior to the race startth
He added that he was taking nothing for granted, given how hard the Tour is, but hoped to profit from his situation being slightly off the radar.
“I think nobody suspects me [as a sprinting contender for the race – ed]…if you look at any articles, nobody has mentioned me. I am out of the limelight and I that will probably play to my favour.
“People probably think I don’t have it, and hopefully they will be surprised.”
Days later, he hopes this will still be the case, but said on Sunday morning that he had a more immediate goal in mind. Namely, survival. “I will just try to get through today and see how things go.”
If he can do that and if his injuries heal without complication, he’ll be back in the thick of things in the days ahead.